Susie Becher

The Death of Nuance

Protestors wrapped in Israeli flags march in New York City on October 8, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Protestors wrapped in Israeli flags march in New York City on October 8, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Among the casualties of the barbaric Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 and the subsequent Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip has been recognition of the complexity of the conflict and the mix of positions any one individual may hold regarding the many issues that require resolution. In this age of sound bites, video clips, emojis, and reposts, a catchy slogan is a far greater influencer than a 60-minute podcast in which experts take a deep dive on the roots of the conflict and explore options to resolve it.

Gone are the days of political debate, never mind dialogue, between people who share the same values but have different views on how to achieve them. I am not advocating for a dialogue of the deaf between opposing sides, nor am I a fan of ambiguity or uncertainty. What we must preserve, however, is the ability to identify intricacies instead of reducing issues to simplistic notions of black or white. It is regrettable that lines are being drawn between likeminded Palestinians and Israelis who believe that both peoples have the right to self-determination in two sovereign states living side by side, who believe that butchering families in their homes is terrorism and that bringing an entire apartment complex down on the heads of its residents in order to kill a wanted terrorist is a war crime, who believe that human beings aren’t objects to be captured and used as bargaining chips and that prisoners who are guilty of the most savage crimes are entitled to humane living conditions.

In every country, on every channel, politicians, journalists, academics, protestors in the streets and students on college campuses are speaking in terms of pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. Dichotomy is the name of the game. Both sides have adopted the approach that “you’re either with us or against us,” implying that the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples are mutually exclusive. And the way in which the terms are applied reinforces this misconception. If you’re pro-Israeli, you’re seen as supporting the extreme right-wing government that is turning Gaza into hell on earth. If you’re pro-Palestinian, you’re seen as someone who believes that the establishment of the State of Israel was a colonialist enterprise that must be corrected.

Terse slogans such as “Free Palestine” contribute to the impression that this is a zero-sum game in which Palestinian liberation is conditional on annihilating the State of Israel. Of course, it would be difficult to catch one’s breath if you had to march while chanting “Free the Palestinian Territories From the Israeli Occupation and Recognize a Palestinian State Alongside the State of Israel Based on the 1967 Borders With East Jerusalem as Its Capital and Security for Both.” There are universal humanitarian themes, however, such as “Release the Hostages” and “Let Aid Into Gaza,” that could serve as banners under which progressives on both sides should be able to rally.

The simplification of the messaging has also resulted in distorted positions such as the House of Representatives’ condemnation of “From the River to the Sea” as an antisemitic call to arms. One would have expected that the overwhelming number of Representatives across party lines who afforded the resolution bipartisan support to the tune of 377 in favor and 44 against would have known that this call is also used by the Israeli right wing and that social media is rife with posts that show the Israeli flag with the text “From the River to the Sea, This Is the Only Flag You’ll See.”  Furthermore, the guiding principles of the current Israeli Government declare that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and indisputable right to all parts of the Land of Israel. The Government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel – the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan and Judea and Samaria.” When uttered by Jews seeking control of the entire area, the dream of the river to the sea is not antisemitic but it is no less militant than when mouthed by Palestinians. Perhaps the House should have condemned the Israeli Government as well when it censured Rep. Tashiba Tlaib for her use of this slogan.

In an interview to CBS in early March, Vice President Kamala Harris said that “it is important to distinguish or at least not conflate the Israeli Government with the Israeli people.” The same is true of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. On both sides one can still find people who share common objectives and believe that their achievement will benefit the entire region. We share our condemnation of the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and his wretched coalition, and we share the desire to free the Palestinian people from the yoke of the occupation and enable the realization of their national aspirations alongside those of the Jewish people. We reject violence as a means to attain Palestinian liberation or entrench Jewish supremacy. We recognize that the methods proposed in Yahya Sinwar’s plan to realize “the Last Promise” do not differ significantly from those in Bezalel Smotrich’s “Decisive Plan,” except that the goal of the former is to get rid of the Jews and the latter to get rid of the Palestinians. We believe in coexistence and, yes, we believe in peace.

It is noteworthy that in the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian rhetoric, the word peace fails to appear. The so-called pro-Israeli camp calling for the eradication of Hamas and control of Gaza and the so-called pro-Palestinian camp that defends atrocities as a legitimate form of resistance should actually be characterized as pro-hegemony. Facing off against them should be the pro-coexistence camp, in which Israelis and Palestinians unite in working for a better future for all the people between the river and the sea.

About the Author
Susie Becher is Managing Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, a collaborative quarterly published in Jerusalem; is Communications Director of the Policy Working Group, a team of senior academics, former diplomats, human rights defenders, and media experts who advocate for an end to the occupation and a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and serves on the Steering Committee of Zulat, an activist think tank advocating for human rights and equality in Israel.
Related Topics
Related Posts